2015 MLS preview by someone catching up very quickly

The CBA is done. It’s not great, and someone still needs to ask the league office and the owners how they can reconcile their tough stances on free agency and raises with the “league of choice” ambition.

But now, we actually have a season. That means those of us who’ve been following the CBA and little else need to take a quick look around and see what’s actually happening in the league.

Knowing the league used to be easy. My goal the last couple of years I was at USA TODAY was to go to enough D.C. United games to see every team in the league, and I’d usually go to the visitors’ locker room to touch base with everyone. Over the course of a season, I’d get a good sense of every team’s style and personnel.

Now? Not so much. While embedded with the Washington Spirit, I don’t get to RFK as much as I used to, and watching on TV is limiting.

So now that I’ve given you absolutely no reason to read on … read these season predictions:

WEST

1. Seattle: The Shield winners lost DeAndre Yedlin but returned most of the core, including Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and the occasionally ailing Ozzie Alonso. The back line has Brad Evans and Chad Marshall. They’re solid once again.

2. Los Angeles: Farewell, Landon. Hello, Steve Gerrard (eventually). Other than that, very little has changed for the champions. Jaime Pinedo is a capable keeper, Gyasi Zardes is a breakthrough talent, and Robbie Keane is Robbie Keane.

3. Dallas: Best team in the league when healthy? That’s what Matt Doyle said. They picked up GK Dan Kennedy in the farewell-to-Chivas-USA draft. Fabian Castillo and Blas Perez are part of a fun midfield.

4. Real Salt Lake: No more Kreis, and now no more Lagerwey. The Dukies are gone. They still have Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Nick Rimando and Alvaro Saborio. They lost Nat Borchers and Chris Wingert, but Jamison Olave is back. So it’s still a recognizable team, with some youth talent coming in as well to join Luis Gil. I’ll disagree with PST – I think this team still gets into the playoffs.

5. Kansas City: Over to the West go the former Wizards, where Peter Vermes will always keep things organized. A lot of players have departed — Aurelien Collin, Claudio Bieler, C.J. Sapong — but Roger Espinoza is back from England. Their lineup has star power that the glitzier cities would envy — Graham Zusi, Benny Feilhaber, Matt Besler and Sydney Leroux’s husband, Dom Dwyer (24 goals across all competitions).

6. Portland: Nat Borchers, he of the most massive beard this side of Tim Howard, has joined the back line. They’ve got Darlington Nagbe. They’ve got DPs — Fanendo Adi up front, Liam Ridgewell at the back. Coach Caleb Porter also got an international keeper from Ghana, Adam Kwarasey. Getting Diego Valeri back from injury in May would put them in contention.

7. Vancouver: The Whitecaps probably get less credit than they deserve among us East Coasters who don’t often get to see them play. MLS Analyst Matt Doyle says they’re a dark-horse Cup contender. On Soccer Morning today, Andrew Weibe touted Pedro Morales as an MVP candidate. Costa Rican Kendall Waston is a solid center back. Kekuta Manneh is a dangerous winger. Under a good bit of pressure: Young Designated Player Octavio Rivero, a forward charged with igniting the offense.

8. San Jose: Dominic Kinnear is back in the Bay Area, and they’ve got Chris Wondolowski and Swiss international Innocent Emeghara up front. Matias Perez Garcia is the playmaker, and Marvell Wynne joins Clarence Goodson and Victor Bernardez at the back.

9. Houston: No more Dominic Kinnear. That just feels strange. They have Premier League vet Owen Coyle in charge, and they won the Cubo Torres sweepstakes. They’ve also got DaMarcus Beasley and ever-dangerous Brad Davis — not young, but they should be effective.

10. Colorado: As Jerry Seinfeld might say, who are these people? Coach Pablo Mastroeni might be tempted to run out on the field and play. They have a young DP in Argentine midfielder Juan Ramirez, and they’ve added Sam Cronin and Michael Harrington. Can Dillon Powers make a breakthrough?

EAST

1. D.C. United: Worst to first last year, but losing badly to Alajuelense in the CONCACAF Champions League doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, and Fabian Espindola has to sit out a few games to start the season. Bill Hamid is behind a strong defense. Is Chris Pontius actually healthy?

2. New England: A surprise MLS Cup finalist last year, and now they’ll have Jermaine Jones for a full season. Lee Nguyen was an MVP candidate, and they have a gaggle of former phenoms who can produce — Juan Agudelo, Charlie Davies, Teal Bunbury.

3. Columbus: The MLS Armchair Analyst puts the Crew in the hunt for the Supporters Shield. Might be ambitious, but having Kei Kamara running around up top while Federico Higuain pulls strings in midfield and Michael Parkhurst anchors the back isn’t a bad start.

4. Toronto: We have big names, yes we do. We have big names, how about you? Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Robbie Findley, actual Italian international Sebastian Giovinco. Can the rest of the roster produce?

5. Montreal: The worst team in MLS last season just beat Pachuca in CONCACAF. That’s like Leicester City knocking Milan out of the Champions League. Argentine DP Ignacio Piatti gets a full season with the Impact, and the CONCACAF win proves Frank Klopas might be some sort of wizard. Can the defense hold?

6. Philadelphia: Jim Curtin will have an opportunity to solidify a solid core — Maurice Edu, Cristian Maidana, Sebastian Le Toux and the returning Conor Casey. They’ve added Benfica defender Steven Vitoria. But they just seem to be a few pieces away.

7. Chicago: Must learn to spell David Accam (Ghana international) and Kennedy Igboananike. They’re new Designated Players. They have good young-ish talent in GK Sean Johnson and Harry Shipp, and they have 2003 U17 world champion Adailton in defense with Jeff Larentowicz. Massive turnover — it’ll take a few weeks to get a feel for this team. In Frank Yallop we trust.

8. Orlando: Never easy to be an expansion team, but they’ve got Donovan Ricketts, Kaka, Brek Shea and Aurelien Collin added to some carryovers from their USL days. Playoffs might be difficult. Respectability? I think so.

9. NYC FC: Still wrapping my head around the fact that this team is actually going to play. It smells of Chivas USA Mark II. They’ll supplant D.C. United in the “team that desperately needs a stadium” spot. They have Jason Kreis coaching, which is good. They’ll have splashy signings in David Villa and (eventually, we think) Frank Lampard.

10. New York: Thierry Henry retired, and then Ali Curtis came in and immediately dismantled a pretty good team. Sure, they have Sacha Kljestan now, but I’m ranking them last out of principle.

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